As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage on, many battle an invisible fight that is triggered by death, isolation, anxiety and uncertainty that accompany the outbreak while the country’s healthcare system cracks under the strain.
Experts say the country could be dealing with a second health crisis, and the long-term impact of the pandemic will be severe and take a long time to fix.
Fear, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders have spread through the population, causing a decline in mental health in the country.
“The impact of Covid-19 has not just been the obvious physical one. There are a lot of other things involved, as many people have lost their employment, and there is so much fear. All those factors have led to mental illness among people,” says former health minister Dr Bernard Haufiku.
According to him, impoverished people are at a higher risk of mental health disorders.
“The pandemic has affected almost everyone, but we all know that the most underprivileged people continue to be at the receiving end. The irony is that they often don’t even realise they are suffering from mental illness. That is how cases of suicide might also increase as a result of these illnesses. We have very few psychologists and psychiatrists in the country, and many of those we have are mostly in urban areas.
It is a whole compounding situation for mental health,” he stated.
Since last month, Freedom Tjituruka (19) has consciously kept his phone off to avoid any news related to deaths or Covid-19.
The young man from Walvis Bay was recently diagnosed with severe clinical depression after hearing about his uncle, who died from Covid-19 in April.
“He doesn’t want to go out of the house anymore. He spends most of his time just in his room, and warned us not to ever tell him of what is happening in the outside world,” said Tjituruka’s mother in a telephonic interview, adding that the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus has compounded her son’s mental state.
Speaking to New Era, a clinical psychologist who asked to remain anonymous said since the beginning of the pandemic, the demand for mental services has skyrocketed.
“Many people are already experiencing serious mental health problems, especially young people. I have received a lot of patients experiencing panic attacks, and depression is the second-most commonly reported condition, which increase has contributed to death and isolation,” she said.
The psychologist added that if the pandemic continues for too long, “we will run out of capacity to control these mental health issues”.
Medical doctor Esperance Luvindao said health practitioners in the country are more vulnerable to Covid-19 infections than the general population due to frequent contact with infected individuals.
“Other than just the fear of contracting the virus, our mental health is highly affected. A lot of these people working in the Covid-19 wards constantly have to be away from their families and loved ones because they have to isolate. One thing that people don’t talk about is that these workers already had other underlying mental illnesses, and the anxiety that comes with treating over 10 Covid-19 patients in a day makes the situation even worse for them,” she said.
Luvindao warned that conditions created by the pandemic will furthermore be a breeding ground for chronic stress, anxiety, depression and self-harm, and thus urged the nation to take precautionary measures to help curb the virus.
“We are experiencing a shortage of oxygen in hospitals, and cases are increasing every day. We are exhausted,” she emphasised.
Earlier this year, health minister Kalumbi Shangula reported that 1 350 Namibian healthcare workers had contracted the virus, while six of them died.
Deputy minister of health Esther Muinjangue, who is a social worker by profession, also confirmed an increase in mental illness cases.
She noted that although government has assigned a few social workers at various healthcare centres, they need to increase these numbers.
“There is one social worker at the Katutura respiratory unit, and we have realised that we need to at least assign two more social workers at that unit. We have also realised that we need more social workers or psychologists at various isolation facilities. We will likewise be providing psychological support to the families of patients,” said Muinjangue.
Devastating… The Covid-19 crisis takes a toll on mental health.
Photo: Emmency Nuukala